Farewell to Formosa

It is more than a decade since I first came to Taiwan. During that time Taiwan has played a big part in my life, but my time there has finally come to an end and I am returning to Australia. This news may come as a surprise to some readers of this blog, but I have spent the past few weeks meeting with and saying goodbye to friends in Taipei and Taichung.

These past few years in Taiwan have been a rich learning experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study at National Chengchi University (NCCU) where I completed a Master’s degree in Taiwan Studies. Dr David Blundell gave me some great guidance in the process of writing my thesis. David is currently editing a book titled Taiwan Since Martial Law. I have written a chapter for the book based on my thesis research and it should be published in the next few months. I will post the details of the book on this blog when it is available. Continue reading

John Seed in Taiwan

Paiwan artist gives carving to John Seed

I have just spent ten days accompanying John Seed on a trip around Taiwan. John is an environmentalist from Australia well known for his efforts protecting rainforests around the world and also as a philosopher of Deep Ecology. I met John at the Taoyuan Airport on the morning of 28 March. We then took the high speed train to Kaohsiung where we met Dr Lin Yih-ren who arranged John’s visit to Taiwan.

Wutai in Pingtung County

After lunch in Kaohsiung we went to visit the Qimei Community University and then went on a tour around the Meinong area. By the time night fell we were high in the mountains of Pingtung County staying at the Rukai village of Wutai. The photo at the top of this post shows Paiwan artist E-tan presenting one of his works to John. We met E-tan at the Autumn Moon Cafe (秋月e店) just above the town of Sandimen. The cafe is an amazing spot and is filled with great artworks.  Continue reading

Visit to the Bunun community of Kalibuan

Bunun Museum in Xinyi Township

Over the weekend I visited the Bunun community of Kalibuan (Wangxiang, 望鄉部落) with a group of students from Providence University and National Chengchi University. The first stop on the way was a small museum in Xinyi Township of Nantou County. The museum contains a range of materials related to Bunun culture.

The picture above shows a reconstruction of a traditional slate house in the museum. There are also some items related to hunting and farming and a reproduction of a Bunun calendar. The Bunun were the only group of Austronesian people in Taiwan to develop a writing system. The calendar contains information about phases of the moon, hunting, farming activities and significant events like births or marriages. The knowledge about making the calendars was only held by a few families.  Continue reading

In the land of the Seediq

Seediq woman playing bamboo mouth harp

Over the weekend I joined a trip organised by the Research Centre for Austronesian Peoples at Providence University to Ren’ai Township in Nantou County (南投縣仁愛鄉). We visited several villages in the area to learn more about Seediq (賽德克族) culture. The main purpose of the trip was as an orientation for professors from several universities who are working on a project to improve science and maths education for indigenous children. They plan to include various elements of local culture and knowledge into the curriculum to make it more relevant and improve learning outcomes.

Presbyterian Church in Sadu

The first place was visited was Sadu (靜觀), which was at the end of the road at an altitude of 1,500 metres. In the church Pastor Kumu Tapas gave us a talk about various aspects of the local culture and history. Actually the people in this village identify as Toda, a sub-group of the Seediq. The other two sub-groups of the Seediq are the Tkdaya and Truku. The Seediq groups were classified as Atayal until the Truku gained official recognition 2004. Then the Seediq (Tkdaya) were officially recognised in 2008. However, the Toda haven’t gained recognition as a separate group. Continue reading

Visit to typhoon-affected areas of Kaohsiung County

Over the weekend I visited some of the areas affected by Typhoon Morakot in Kaohsiung County with a group of law students from Providence University. It is now more than eight months since the typhoon hit Taiwan. While there has been so much reported about the event in the media visiting these places provides a better understanding of the magnitude of the disaster.

The first part of the trip visited Liugui (六龜) and Baolai (寶來). In Liugui a Bunun elder related the history of his community. Following the typhoon they have been frustrated in their efforts to find a new place to relocate their village. Even though they have found a suitable place the government has repeatedly refused them permission to move there.

Dr Lin Yih-ren raised the important point that “moving the village” (遷村) is actually a normal part of the culture of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. Historically they also migrated to new locations within Taiwan. However, forced relocation by the government is something different and doesn’t respect the autonomy or integrity of indigenous communities.

A satellite photo in Liugui showed the extent of landslides. These occurred in both areas were people lived and also in other places were there were no people living and no agricultural or other activities. This indicates the problem is not just related to land use, but is closely linked to the geology of the area. The landscape is very fragile in nature. Continue reading

Completed my Master’s, now in Taichung

I recently completed my Master’s thesis, about two and half years after I began studying for a Master’s degree in Taiwan Studies at NCCU (國立政治大學). Although I still have a few administrative matters to complete before I can get my degree certificate. My thesis is titled “Indigenous Rights in Taiwan and the Smangus Case”. It examines the Smangus Beech Tree Incident which I have written about in a number of articles on this blog.

I moved to Taichung this week. After more than five years living in Taipei I look forward to experiencing life in another part of Taiwan. I am now a research assistant in the Research Centre for Austronesian Peoples at Providence University (靜宜大學). It is a good chance to continue doing research work in the same field as my thesis.